Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Daily Howler, a former inner city teacher in Baltimore, gets to the heart of what's wrong with the common core

Given our large achievement gaps, how can any set of “standards” make sense for all kids in a single grade? The gaps are very large in our schools. How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?

This is the world’s most obvious question. Through twenty years of the “standards movement,” we’ve never seen it asked.According to the Common Core, everyone should be taught the same math—we just need to make the math harder! We don’t know how that’s supposed to work for the many (superlative) kids on the short end of those very large gaps. We’ve followed these topics for more than forty years. We never cease to be amazed by the ease with which people disregard the size of the gaps, and the role they play in our classrooms... Daily Howler

It takes a former teacher - a real teacher, not the phony "few years in and become an expert" type. The Howler is spending the month on covering these gaps and their implications. Check them out here: http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com

Here are the last 2 posts:



Posted: 11 Jun 2014 11:47 AM PDT
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014

Common versus higher: From the standpoint of messaging, an advocate can never go wrong calling for “higher standards.”

That sounds like something a person would want! Who could possibly stand opposed to “higher standards?”

This messaging drives the campaign in support of the Common Core. That said, the Common Core is often supported in a different way.

Often, advocates praise the Common Core because it creates a common set of “standards.” If every state signs on to the program, all the states will be teaching the same skills in each grade!

At first glance, that seems to make perfect sense. We live in a highly mobile world. Under this theory, a student who moved from one state to another would encounter the same set of “standards” at his new school.

That said, the Common Core is often praised on that other basis. It’s praised because its “standards” are higher than those which have obtained in many states in the past.

Which is it? Is the Common Core a good idea because it creates a common set of “standards?” Or is it good because the standards in question are higher?

The two rationales often appear interchangeably. Consider a passage from Lyndsey Layton’s detailed report in Sunday’s Washington Post.

In the following passage, Layton describes the way Arne Duncan got states to adopt the Common Core through the use of stimulus money. In the process, Layton cites both rationales for the program:
LAYTON (6/8/14): As secretary [of education], Duncan named as his chief of staff Margot Rogers, a top Gates official he got to know through that grant. He also hired James Shelton, a program officer at the foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and most recently as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions.

Duncan and his team leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards.

They created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest for education grants. Under the contest rules, states that adopted high standards stood the best chance of winning. It was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms. It was also a tantalizing incentive for cash-strapped states.
First, we’re told that Duncan offered money to states which adopted common standards. Then, we’re told that the standards in question had to be high.

The point is simple. You'll see two different rationales used in support of the Common Core. Sometimes, we’re told the program is good because the states will have common standards. We’re also told the program is good because the standards are high—in effect, because instruction will be more challenging than before.

At least on the surface, uniformity across the states makes an obvious type of sense. Beyond that, many kids would presumably benefit from more challenging instruction.

That said, our basic question remains:

Given our large achievement gaps, how can any set of “standards” make sense for all kids in a single grade? The gaps are very large in our schools. How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?

This is the world’s most obvious question. Through twenty years of the “standards movement,” we’ve never seen it asked.

Posted: 11 Jun 2014 11:47 AM PDT
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014

Part 3—Teaching from behind: How would tougher “standards”—a more challenging course of study—address the nation’s large achievement gaps?

For ourselves, we have no idea. But that seems to be Bill Gates’ basic concept of the Common Core.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton produced a valuable report about the way Gates has used his billions to create and sponsor the Common Core. Late in her piece, she described his semi-magical thinking:
LAYTON (6/8/14): Now six years into his quest, Gates finds himself in an uncomfortable place—countering critics on the left and right who question whether the Common Core will have any impact or negative effects...

Gates is disdainful of the rhetoric from opponents. He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem—gaping inequalities in U.S. public education—by investing in promising new ideas.
Those “gaping inequalities” certainly are a profound social problem. But how does the Common Core address those very large gaps?

For ourselves, we have no idea—and Layton didn’t ask.

Often, people like Gates don’t seem to grasp the role of the gaps in our schools. By ninth grade, years of failure and incomprehension drive alienation and despair. In turn, these attitudes drive the truancy and the suspensions described by Robert Balfanz in his report about low-income high schools in Sunday’s New York Times.

In a piece for the Sunday Review, Balfanz described high schools in which many ninth-graders are years below traditional “grade level” and are badly disaffected to boot. That very same day, in the Washington Post, Gates said a tougher course of study would somehow address this gap.

We have no idea how that would work. To us, Gates was disregarding the role of the gaps, as is amazingly common.

For today, let’s forget the alienation of those struggling ninth-grade students. Let’s go all the way back to fourth grade. Let’s assume the children in question are still full of high hopes.

By most accounts, large achievement gaps are already present by fourth grade. Many Americans kids will be reading above the fourth grade level. Many others will be several years behind.

In math, these scores from last year’s NAEP suggest substantial gaps:
Average scores, Grade 4 math, 2013 NAEP
Higher-income students 253.98
Lower-income students 230.20

90th percentile 278.21
75th percentile 262.07
50th percentile 243.03
25th percentile 222.45
10th percentile 202.82
Ten percent of fourth-graders scored above 278; a similar number scored below 202. Taken at face value, those scores suggest a very large gap in math achievement, involving large numbers of kids.

Schools are challenged by these gaps, in an array of ways. And it isn’t just our journalists and “educational experts” who fail to come to terms with the size of the gaps. Often, schools and school systems do a poor job meeting the challenges too.

How do you teach in the face of such gaps? Should every child be taught the same math, no matter how much they already know? Should everyone get the same reading assignments, no matter how well they can read?

According to the Common Core, everyone should be taught the same math—we just need to make the math harder! We don’t know how that’s supposed to work for the many (superlative) kids on the short end of those very large gaps.

We’ve followed these topics for more than forty years. We never cease to be amazed by the ease with which people disregard the size of the gaps, and the role they play in our classrooms.

Let’s wander back almost forty years to consider a classic example.

In the late 1970s, the Baltimore City Schools produced a sweeping new social studies curriculum. At each grade level, the study guide recommended an astonishing array of textbooks and supplementary reading materials.

No school could possibly afford to purchase all the listed books. But a more obvious problem obtained: many books seemed to be much too hard for kids at the given grade level.

The author of this sweeping curriculum, the late Sam Banks, was a superlative person. But he seemed to have little sense of the role of the gaps in elementary schools.

One year, we conducted a study of the “readability” of the various books in the city’s social studies and science curricula.

We used standard readability formulas, which are of course imprecise. In the Baltimore Sun, we described part of what we had found:
SOMERBY (2/9/82): [I]n grade after grade, for topic after topic, [Baltimore social studies] guides recommend textbooks which are clearly too difficult for most city students to work from—books which are completely inappropriate for children who may be several years below traditional grade level in reading.

In the first semester of fourth grade, for example, the two most commonly cited textbooks are Daniel Chu’s “A Glorious Age in Africa”—a textbook with a measured eighth-grade reading level—and Frederick King’s “The Social Studies and Our Country”—Laidlaw’s sixth-grade textbook.

Few fourth graders anywhere will be able to profit from textbooks as difficult as these. In an urban system like Baltimore’s, this selection is particularly surprising—and dooms any attempt to teach the social studies curriculum in a rigorous, systematic way.
Good grief! Chu’s book may be superb, but if we want fourth graders to get lots of reading experiences, they won’t be getting them there—the book is simply too hard. Nor did it make much sense to recommend a sixth-grade textbook for fourth-grade students who were often working below their own grade’s reading level.

In the year we spent on this study, we came to admire Dr. Banks, for several different reasons. But as far as we know, he had never taught elementary school. We’d have to say he had little sense of the role played by the gaps in such schools.

The gaps are already there in fourth grade. As the grades roll by and the gaps widen, the challenge to teachers may grow. It may become harder and harder to find readable textbooks and supplementary reading materials—the kinds of books the students can actually read.

When it comes to math, a school system may have an excellent curriculum—but it will likely be geared to kids who are working on or around traditional “grade level.” If your students are years “behind,” and perhaps confused and discouraged to boot, there is no guide you can follow at all, let alone a textbook program.

When will we see instructional programs geared to the full range of students? In his recent column, Eduardo Porter described the kind of gap which obtains at the start of sixth grade:

“In some public schools, children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.”

Last Sunday, Balfanz described the gap which obtains in low-income high schools:

“In a 22-school sample that we studied closely, nearly all ninth-grade students were either too old for their grades, had repeated ninth grade, needed special education, were chronically absent or had academic skills at the seventh grade level or below.”

We’ll guess that quite a few of those kids had academic skills at well below the seventh grade level. You can’t address these yawning gaps by teaching everyone the same thing—let alone by making your common “standards” even harder!

Dr. Banks was a deeply caring person. But he seemed to have no sense of the role played by the gaps in our elementary schools.

Today, a similar blind spot obtains. According to the Common Core, all kids should get taught the same sixth-grade math—but we need to make it harder!

How does that help sixth-grade students who are already floundering and confused? We don’t have the slightest idea. Layton didn’t ask.

Tomorrow: The gaps before kindergarten

2 comments:

  1. Why would Bill Gates defer to the knowledge and experience of people who have actually taught these grades and witnessed these gaps?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm still waiting for Gates, Duncan or King to respond to my challenge. I will hand over my paycheck if one of them can teach a challenging class in my school for 2 weeks and teachers can observe their highly effective common core lessons. Im putting my money where my mouth is. Roseanne PS 8.

    ReplyDelete

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